Tag Archives: factory farming

King Corn

I heard about this documentary a while ago and just got around to watching it. (You can watch it on Hulu.) It follows two friends’ search to figure out why and how corn become such a giant part of our food system, such a common ingredient in foods at grocery stores. It’s hard to believe how ubiquitous corn is. In this movie, Michael Pollan tells us to consider a McDonald’s happy meal. What corn could there be in a burger, soda and fries? Surprisingly, there is almost a 100% chance that the beef was fed on a diet that consisted mainly of corn. The soda’s main ingredient and source of sweetness is high fructose corn syrup. The fries have probably been deep fried in corn oil. This is all the product of a massive increase in corn production over the last 30 years, after the government started promoting a “get big or get out” philosophy with commodity crops like corn. Across the country, people are planting more acres of corn, and producing more corn per acre. This corn isn’t even edible to humans before it’s processed into corn oil or high fructose corn syrup. We’re producing more corn than we know what to do with, so it ends up in giant granaries, its supply disproportional to demand. The government has to buy the corn from farmers and subsidize it to keep them in business. Farmers are motivated to increase their yield per acre, increasing supply and feeding this wasteful, costly cycle.

To investigate this phenomenon, friends Ian and Curtis buy an acre of farmland in Greene, Iowa. They grow their own corn crop, taking part in the process from planting to harvesting. On top of learning firsthand through farming, they talk to scientists, politicians, and local farmers. They try to trace their corn’s path to the supermarket. It proves impossible because they lose track of their individual harvest as soon as it is poured into the grain elevator, lost in a sea of Greene corn. In the end though, they learn about the system so that it becomes easy to predict the corn’s journey. It will go from farm to grain elevator through processors to become animal feed or high fructose corn syrup or corn oil. Ian and Curtis learn just how ridiculous this journey is.  The system sacrifices the health of American citizens, cattle, and the environment in its pursuit of economic stability. It’s not cheap in environmental costs nor is it sustainable. It’s hard to imagine how we could change a system with so much momentum and so many people behind it.

We want to counter this “get big or get out” philosophy. We need to give our support to farms that are built on sustainability, part of a more balanced system. Knowing that corn is in so many processed foods makes me want to eat fresh, whole foods even more. And as important as personal choice is, I think that this issue ultimately requires change within the government to be solved. The government is the force perpetuating the system, so the government must be the force to stop it. The more people that know about the issue, the more who will want to fight it and get things done. Our job is just to support what we think is right and spread the word until the controversy becomes so big that the government can’t ignore it.



Eating For A Sustainable Planet

Here is a video I made for biology class about the affect of cattle and fishing on the environment. I made it a while a go and there are a few inaccuracies and generalizations, but I stay true to the overall message. When I say that 99% of animals come from factory farms “like this one,” the footage actually comes from a slaughterhouse, at a separate location from the farms where the cattle lived.

My goal with this video was to show how our diet affects the earth and connect our choices to a greater global impact, while supporting my position with statistics and pictures. I tried to reveal the cruel practices and facts in a way that people could understand on both a logical and emotional level. I hope that you can find a new piece of information or footage that means something to you and stays with you.


Personal Choice and Animals Used for Clothing

I have never really known the source of wool, leather, or fur clothes. I think it is very easy to forget about these products because we don’t see everything that happens to the animal before it is made into our clothes. I avoid leather products because I want to apply my choices in diet to my choices in clothing and avoid animal products in both. At the same time,  I’ve never really given animal clothing much thought as a separate issue from animal meat. I’ve never realized what it truly means to support clothing made from animal skin. I found some basic information here: http://www.idausa.org/facts/leatherfacts.html. What I found was scary because I had never actually seen the cruelties of skinning and leather production. What I started to think about was not the horrors of the leather industry specifically; I realized that the mistreatment of animals and the environmental harm that goes along with it reaches so many different aspects of our lives as consumers. After everything we do to other living things, more animal friendly and earth friendly alternatives are easily available if we just go out of our way a little bit. Still, it is disheartening and overwhelming to think of how ever-present these industries are. Many times, the individual choices we make seem inconsequential. After all, what change in factory farming does it bring about to buy the veggie burger instead of the hamburger? When I question myself and the affect of my choices as a consumer, I can’t honestly say that my avoiding meat makes a deep impact on worldwide factory farming; I can say I put my individual beliefs into action and choose a lifestyle based on what I know is right. When one person decides to avoid a product because of moral or environmental reasons, no animal is saved in that moment. However, that person will tell their friends and soon there will be a few more people who truly understand the carelessness with which we treat the earth, a few more people who know the destruction that our actions cause. For me, choice is about what I avoid, but more importantly what I support. There’s nothing better than going to a friend’s farm and picking vegetables and eggs to eat that night. And there’s nothing better than being a part of my own food and seeing the living things that surround it. The choice to avoid animal products has to be a meaningful, personal one because we can’t see an instant, worldly change. We have to have faith in our choices and look toward the future when our decisions will really start to count. We have to know that the personal choice of diet or clothing isn’t always a big thing, but it will always be the right thing.


Our Connection with Our Food

I apologize for not having posted anything in so long. I’ve been very busy and now I will start posting more regularly, at least once a week. For our English class, Henry and I had an assignment to right rhetoric on something we believed strongly in, so we both wrote about our food and vegetarianism. Here’s my essay and Henry will put his up soon:

I think one of the greatest aspects of modern society is the human will. It is unique to humans and it’s one of the driving forces of society: the will to get up in the morning, to finish a marathon, to bring a child into the world. The Spanish words for give birth are “dar a luz”- literally to bring to light. But the Spanish have a different word, parir, for when an animal gives birth. A sow doesn’t bring her piglet to light, she just gives birth. In this differentiation lies one of the faults of human will: the self-declared superiority of humans over animals. Our own will, emotion, intelligence contribute to our thought that no other animals will ever be equal to us in these respects. I think it is natural for us to say we think of animals as equals, but many of our actions contradict what we’d like to think. Seeing classmates pour salt on a snail or watching footage of chickens in a factory farm have proved for me how easy it is to disregard and destroy our important relationship with other animals. Perhaps the greatest criticism to our behavior is the contrast of an ancient Native American tradition.
After killing a bear, Algonquian Native Americans would talk to the bear’s spirit in words usually reserved for close relatives. This action illustrates a connection to food that modern America lacks. When is the last time we looked down at the hamburger, the bacon, the chicken on our plates and contemplated the profundity of ending another creature’s life to support our own? It seems very strange to a modern American mind to hold a chicken, some thousand miles away, in the same regard as a sister or a father, but the Algonquians were close enough to their food source to do so. They killed for food, just as we do, but with a much deeper relationship to their kill.
I understand that this killing is a fact of life- the survival of any animal means the demise of other living things. There is evolutionary evidence, like our teeth, that suggests a diet of both plants and animals. Even though I follow a diet free of animal meat, I support the idea of eating another animal, but only as long as we acknowledge that it is another animal, more than just a food source. I don’t think that our modern factory farming system allows for this acknowledgement. The regard Algonquians held for their kill has traveled a long, distorted path to come to our modern conception of food and the animal’s life. If we tried to tell an Algonquian woman that someone was “treated like an animal,” she wouldn’t understand because of her immense respect for nature and all living things. Humans are not above nature, we are part of it; we are animals, just like the distant livestock that make up our diet. The distance between humans and our food source is apparent in that most of us have never and will never see an animal alive before we eat it. This distance proves even further when we consider that rarity with which we contemplate this animal’s life. We must think of our ham as the flesh of a caring mother sow, our milk as the source of life for a newborn calf, but both are found on factory farms so outside our view that such thought becomes difficult.
I think the injustices of factory farming are easy to bring to light. The veal calf, for example, lives for a few days in a crate that doesn’t allow him to move. This paralysis along with his anemic diet ensures that his meat is tender. But this veal calf is a ‘him’, not an ‘it’. The belittlement of the animal life is a reflection of the little thought we give our fellow animals. To me, this thoughtlessness represents a sad downside to human will. We have the power to make so much happen that often we overlook some of our most important relationships with the world around us. If we think of our effect on the environment, we think of driving, recycling, but how often do we think of eating? When we abandoned our relationship with food, we abandoned a crucial part of our ability to shape the future of this earth. According to some studies, livestock makes up 18% of our greenhouse gas emissions. If we can keep this in mind, we can connect and remember the lives that went into our food. We can acknowledge the importance of choice, in diet and lifestyle. Choice is the gift of our will, the reward of our thought. When we turn our will into choice, we can fully understand the consequences of our actions, our thoughts, and our connections.


Vegetarianism in Nature’s Context

A lot of people I’ve talked to about vegetarianism disagree with the idea because they think that eating meat is natural; there is even evolutionary evidence like the shape of our teeth that proves we are meant to eat flesh. Personally, I don’t disagree with the idea of humans eating meat, I just don’t support what is done to our meat nowadays. I know that for humans and animals to survive, we must naturally kill and eat other living things. For me, however, the motive does not justify the very cruel, unnatural means. It is not natural to continually impregnate a cow to keep up her milk production or to milk her with a painful machine. Many people say that nothing is morally wrong with milking cows because the cows enjoy being milked. This is fundamentally true; I think that the cow is more than happy giving milk, provided that it goes to her calf, just like a mother nursing her baby. What would you think if human mothers were repeatedly impregnated to continue producing milk? A cow’s babies will either follow the same path as her, or if male, be sold to other farmers as veal calves. They will be kept in a crate on an anemic diet, never to see the light of day until they are shipped off to slaughter. That life is not natural, nor moral if we consider a similar fate for humans. What about genetically modifying a chicken so that its breast is so large it will have leg problems and pain? Many die starved, unable to make their way to food or water with legs broken under their weight. Farmers keep the lights on for 17 hours or more a day to trick their laying hens to continue producing eggs; they often live only a month and a half. Piglets must be castrated and their tails and ears clipped, often without any sort of painkiller. To me, this treatment seems both unnatural and immoral. I used to disregard vegetarians as ignorant fanatics who don’t understand the evolutionary truth, but now I see that most are just people who exercise self restrain for the sake of morality and sustainability. Somehow we have come to the sad and pathetic point where it is better for the earth not to take on our natural diet.

45 Days: The Life and Death of a Broiler Chicken

This is a very great video to start thinking about what your food goes through before it gets to you. It’s also a reminder that your food was once living and can feel pain just like you. To begin with, its a shock for many people to figure out that a broiler chicken (one farmed for meat) only lives for about a month and a half, and often, even less. The farms are only out to make money, and the less time and less effort needed, the better. Many of the things the chickens are put through would be illegal if done to humans and at times,  the footage is a little disturbing. However, we can’t just ignore the truth because its scary or ugly.

part 1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jGy9oTfH27s

part 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-lhoF0T9Ay8&